Organizing Your Life Outside of Work: A Guide to Intentional Living

Added: Jan 16, 2024

In this podcast episode, Cal Newport discusses the importance of organizing your life outside of work as the first step towards building a more intentional and deep life. He argues that starting with discipline and organization in your personal life can create a more hospitable environment for ambition and aspiration to grow. He provides a simple system for life organization, consisting of three components: file storage, a digital calendar, and a mail sorter.

Key takeaways


Implement a system for file storage and digital storage to reduce stress and create mental peace.


Use a digital calendar to gain control over optional high-value activities and ensure clarity and peace of mind.


Set up a mail sorter as an incoming filter for non-work related obligations and tasks.


Automate important recurring tasks to gain more control over time and ensure time for important activities.


Use the deep life stack framework to reconfigure your life and align with your core values and activities that require intense concentration and skill.

File Storage and Digital Storage

Newport emphasizes the importance of having a physical filing system for storing important documents and a digital storage system for digital artifacts. He suggests using a filing cabinet or file box for physical storage and platforms like Google Drive or Dropbox for digital storage. This system allows individuals to keep track of receipts, tax forms, and other important documents, reducing the background hum of stress and creating mental peace.

Digital Calendar

Newport recommends using a digital calendar as the engine of personal life organization. He advises individuals to schedule not only meetings and appointments but also one-time tasks and regular activities on their calendar. By doing so, individuals gain more control over optional high-value activities and can mix and match them into their day. This approach helps individuals gain clarity and peace of mind, as everything they need to remember to do exists on a specific day on their calendar.

Mail Sorter

The mail sorter serves as an incoming filter for everything relevant to an individual's life outside of work. Newport suggests using a physical mail sorter for handling physical artifacts and a stack of paper or index cards for jotting down notes about non-physical obligations. Individuals can then process the mail sorter on a regular basis, handling short-duration obligations immediately and scheduling more time-consuming tasks on their calendar.

Automate What's Important

Once the basic system is in place, Newport advises individuals to automate important recurring tasks by setting up automatic schedules on their calendar. This could include household tasks, car maintenance, exercise, and spending time with friends. By automating these important activities, individuals gain more control over their time and can ensure that they make time for activities that are important to them.

Reduce What's Not Important

Newport encourages individuals to use their calendar to gain a clear understanding of where their time goes and to confront activities that may be taking up too much time. By reconfiguring and reducing activities that are not working, individuals can create more space for the things that truly matter to them.

The Deep Life Stack

Cal Newport introduces the concept of the deep life stack, which is a framework for cultivating a deep and meaningful life. The deep life stack consists of three layers: organization, values, and depth. The organization layer involves capturing and scheduling tasks, the values layer focuses on aligning your life with your core values, and the depth layer involves engaging in activities that require intense concentration and skill.

Reconfiguring Your Life

Newport emphasizes the importance of reconfiguring one's life to align with the deep life stack. He suggests making changes to how work is done, such as scheduling no meetings before 10 a.m. and reducing the number of commitments. By reconfiguring one's life, individuals can gain control and intentionality in their daily activities.

Maintaining a Deep Life During Major Changes

When faced with major changes such as going back to school, changing countries, or experiencing a different language and culture, Newport advises individuals to clarify their intentions and structure their lives around those intentions. This may involve immersing oneself in the new culture and academic program, as well as avoiding a sense of overload or stress. By redefining what a deep life means during a period of transition, individuals can maintain intentionality and focus on what is important to them.

Balancing Work and Personal Obligations

Newport addresses the challenge of balancing work and personal obligations, for people who often find themselves overwhelmed with work and struggle to find time for relaxation. He suggests that having a tiptop organizational system for work can help individuals separate work-related stress from their personal lives. Additionally, implementing a shutdown ritual can train the mind to let go of work-related stress and create clear separation between work and personal time.

Rituals and Routines

Newport explains the differences between rituals and routines within the context of the deep life stack. Rituals are activities that change one's mindset in the moment or remind them of something important, while routines are structured or scheduled activities that impact real output or outcomes. He provides examples of rituals, such as walking before deep work to shift one's mindset, and routines, such as scheduling specific times for deep work to ensure effectiveness.


Full episode

Episode summary